Bruce Ginsburg

What It Takes To Defeat Evil

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Purim and Passover – which will be observed this year on March 23-4 and April 22-30 — celebrate our ancestors’ victories in wars of annihilation against us.  The biblical sources for these holidays – the Books of Esther and Exodus — are not at all apologetic about these triumphs.  After all, they recall Jewish battles waged not for plunder or conquest, but for survival.  Resolved not to be exterminated by Haman, Pharaoh, and the barbarous nations they led, the ancient Jews strove valiantly for their very lives.  In both cases, they united behind a clear objective: total victory against hate.  They did so because they understood, in the words of an ancient sage, that “those who are naively kind to the cruel are ultimately cruel to the kind.”  They grasped that evildoers see weakness in compassion and will exploit such weakness if given a chance for a second round.

Over the centuries, Jews were well acquainted with the perverse animus of demagogues and their vicious followers.  They knew that violent anti-Semitism runs deep and cannot be appeased.  Accordingly, they were not squeamish over the report in the Book of Esther’s ninth chapter that Persia had to suffer over 75,000 casualties before the Jews could live there in dignity or Exodus’ testimony that the Egyptians had to be inflicted with ten plagues before the Israelites could go free.

Contemporary Jews, however, have weaker stomachs.  A sweetened version of the tradition is preferred over the real thing.  That is why on Purim many American synagogues today use copies of Esther which leave the graphic ninth chapter untranslated into English.  It also explains the popularity of the Pollyanish claim made around many Seder tables that the reason a drop of wine is removed from the Passover goblet for each of the plagues is because joy is diminished even when virulent enemies suffer for the evil they have sown.  Ironically, many of us have opted for an airbrushed approach to Purim and an inversion of the Passover message precisely because we have forgotten the twentieth century circumstances which gave us the luxury to do so.

Today, Germany is one of America’s and Britain’s most reliable partners.  Sadly, this is what it took to make that happen: the death of over eight million Germans at the hands of Allied forces; the firebombing of Hamburg and Dresden (which, unlike Israel’s campaign against Hamas, deliberately targeted civilians, gave them no advance warning, didn’t provide them with escape routes or humanitarian aid, and were oblivious to proportionality with 62,000 German deaths inside a week-and-a-half and minimal Allied casualties); the violent death of the Fuehrer; thousands of German suicides committed out of desperation during the last weeks of the war and its aftermath; Germany’s unconditional surrender;  the Nuremberg Trials ending in death sentences for 35 Nazi leaders and life imprisonment for dozens of others; the flight and forcible transfer to Germany of as many as 15 million ethnic Germans out of the Central European countries in which they had lived for generations; an Allied occupation which divided Germany in two and didn’t end officially until forty-five years later; permanent limitations on the size of Germany’s army; an eternal ban against its producing any nuclear weapons; and the relentless pursuit of Nazi war criminals for decades thereafter.

Tragically, what it took to transform the Third Reich into the modern Federal Republic of Germany was brute force during World War II and protracted tough mindedness for decades thereafter.  Of course, the Allies had the wisdom to offer the Germans a brighter horizon on the condition that their Nazi past be unequivocally renounced and national repentance embraced.  Fortunately, over time, the Germans were able to learn from their decisive defeat and begin building better national character.  Not every people might be up to that task.  But those are the hard facts and processes which gave Americans and Brits – as well as millions of Germans and Jews – secure, peaceful, productive and prosperous lives ever since.

This is not to say that all the Allies’ military decisions were morally infallible, or that ends always justify the means, or that massive loss of life is anything but tragic.  However, it is to say that populations – like yesterday’s Germans and today’s Gazans – which advocate the eradication of other peoples, are solely responsible for the misery they bring upon themselves and their children.  It is to say that Western nations which presume to instruct Israel how to conduct a gentler war either forget their own history or are shamelessly hypocritical.  It is to say that the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, the Ivy League, the #MeToo movement, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the worldwide Muslim community, and Jewish Voice for Peace – having largely denied, “contextualized”, justified, or even cheered Hamas’ atrocities while dismissing Israel’s right to defend itself like other Western nations – have lost their moral compass.

Those who suggest that a long-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel will transform the hearts and minds of Gazans and their kindred spirits throughout the region into peace-lovers capable of embarking on a two-state solution are either deceiving themselves or deliberately deceiving others.  The all too many mobs throughout the world shouting “from the River to the Sea” are more candid about their intentions.  They share Hamas’ oft-stated, non-negotiable objective: a Final Solution to the Jewish State and the Jewish People.  Unlike the overwhelming majority of today’s Germans, the hordes of Hamas sympathizers still believe that Hitler was right.

Purim and Passover offer an opportunity to reclaim the truth of the original biblical message – a truth understood not only by Jews over the ages, but by Churchill and Truman, not long ago.  Genuine, long-lasting peace for all mankind can only be secured when good confronts evil and unambiguously prevails.


About the Author
Rabbi Bruce Ginsburg is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Sons of Israel in Woodmere, NY. A product of Boston University, New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary, and Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, he holds a doctorate in Hebrew literature. Known for his decades-old activism on behalf of Israel, Soviet Jewry, and intra/interfaith cooperation, he has served both as president of the Long Island Board of Rabbis and as president of the Union for Traditional Judaism. His essays have appeared in Newsday, the Christian Science Monitor, the Jerusalem Report, and other publications. He and his wife, Rachel, moved to Israel in the summer of 2022.
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